Facebook Page
Cosast Starlight - LAX - SEA

Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle, WA and back.

A long distance overnight train trip staying several nights in a nice hotel in a leading city's downtown.

Our First Steps

Wednesday  November 13, 2019

This Ending might be a little stinky.

Text and Photos by Robin Bowers

The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent

Comments are appreciated


    Our day started not long after sunrise (the crack of dawn) and that found us packing the last of the luggage and making sure we were on schedule to be at the Santa Ana train station. At Santa Ana, we would board MetroLink # 685 bound for Los Angeles Union Station. Once there,  we would depart at 10:10 AM on Amtrak's Starlight train #14 headed for Seattle. Tomorrow night would find us in Seattle with tonight being spent in a Roomette 14.

    For the past several years, I've wanted to celebrate my birthdays in a special way. One thing I like to do among these is to stay a night in a special hotel in a unique location. In 2007 I went to Seattle to attend the Tutankhamun road show, spent several days there and stayed at the Warwick Hotel, then on to the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex, Montana. I made my first trip on the Starlight to get to Seattle. Long acknowledged as one of Amtrak's most scenic routes, I needed to find out for myself. It didn't disappoint. I heard many good things from friends who had stayed at Izaak Walton and would give me the opportunity to ride Amtrak's Empire Builder. I thought this would cap off a great birthday celebration for that year.

    It was this past Autumn that Amtrak was having a sleeping car sale with companion riding free. I thought where could I travel to and who would be my companion. After making a pro and con list, the location of Seattle was chosen and for my traveling companion my long time friend and buddy Russell Powers of Tulare in the central valley of California. One of the few who could be away from home for an extended time, Russell was interested but was having mobility issues of late. A bum knee slows his walking. After deciding he was able to make the trip, I made the reservations with Amtrak and Warwick and bought the train tickets.

    This past Sunday Russell boarded San Joaquin's train 712 in Hanford ( HNF) at noon and I picked him up at the Santa Ana station six hours later. It is now several days later and here we are arriving at the Santa Ana train station for a great birthday travel adventure.

    Morning traffic was heavy but we arrived at Santa Ana as scheduled. After finding an empty space near the front exit of the parking structure, we proceeded inside the station. Our first stop was at the security office where I gave the guard my car information, how long we would be gone and my phone number. There was no charge. Next it was to the Metrolink ticket vending machine to buy two one-way tickets to Los Angeles. Then it was across the tracks to the platform on the other side. Time was running out so we increased our step and arrived five minutes before our train arrived. #685 arrived on time at 8:25 am with arrival in Los Angeles one hour later. Our train made all the stops picking up many commuters but we arrived as scheduled, which meant we would be good for the Starlight. Arriving at Union Station has the unknown fact that you never know what track or platform they will put you on. Hopefully today the distance between our two platforms will not be great. Now when we arrived I didn't see the Coast Starlight so did not have a clue as to where to proceed. We left the train and stood on the platform and waited about ten minutes before it was announced that #14 would be arriving at our platform on the other side. What good luck. Never had a transfer so close, be it trains or planes. Our sleeping car stopped about one-and-a-half cars in front of us so it was a short walk to our car and our greeting car attendant.


Loco for #685 Metrolink train from Santa Ana.

Our Metrolink on right and # 14 Starlight on left.


Train # 14.


Our sleeping car with our room the middle window lower level. 

    After Roger greeted us, he then showed us where to put the bags and pointed out where our Roomette was located. After we stowed the big bags, we took our backpacks to the room and settled in. All there is space for is your bedclothes, toothbrush and a change for tomorrow clothes. There is only one electric outlet, so if you need to charge a few items bring an extension cord or a power strip. I had my computer plus camera battery to charge plus my phone and Russell's phone. I then grabbed my camera and stepped out on the platform to take few pics. Looking at the consist I then realized the beach and ocean view were on the other side of the train as we were on the engineer's side. After returning to the room, soon we were slowly and quietly pulling away from the platform. Once underway, Roger came by to answer questions and acquaint us with the ins and outs of sleeper travel. He also presented us with packet several important and useful information papers. Included was a copy of the Coast Starlight timetable that Amtrak, in its wisdom, has now stopped printing. That was most helpful in tracking our route. Also included was a history of Union Station, points of interest along the Cascade Line, a map of the Coast Starlight's route from Los Angeles to Seattle, the dining car menu and an information sheet listing meal times and the fresh air-smoke stops, of which were of great interest to Russell.

 Special note: The Average Train Speed between Seattle and LA is 38 mph. First time a sleeping car attended has given me this helpful information. Impressive.

    When I was planning this trip I said that when we crossed the LA River I could relax and I did just that. Shortly later after leaving, we crossed the Los Angeles River. Everything had worked as planned and now nothing was scheduled but to be at the Seattle train station next Monday morning. So far its been mostly green lights with the rest yellow. After about ten minutes we were passing the Glendale station. It was from here about forty years back that Russell and I along with his then seven year old son boarded train #14 for San Luis Obispo and a tour of Hearst Castle.

    On our lower level only one roomette and the family room were unoccupied so we were able to go in the family room (which was next door) to see the beach and ocean and take a couple of pics.


North of Venture.


    When the dining room host came around taking lunch reservations, Russell asked if we could eat in our room. He was unsure if he could do the stairs to get to the diner. She said no problem and told Roger to get our delivery time. About a hour later Roger delivered our lunch. What great service!


Russell preparing his Romaine & Goat Cheese Salad with grilled chicken breast. Served on white table cloth.

    After lunch we had a smoke stop at Santa Barbara. It was good to get in the fresh air and sunshine. Our next stop would be San Luis Obispo as we continue northbound along the California coast.


Refugio State Beach



Private beach and ranch owned by millionaires where trespassers and public very much not welcome. 


Vandenberg Air Force Base launch tower.


Vandenberg has an especially built long runway for the space shuttle but was never used.

    When I knew our travel dates I texted my sister to let here know when I would be in her neighborhood. She lives 30 minutes away and said she would meet us in SLO. As we neared SLO we held and waited. This was a meeting point of the north and south bound trains. When the second train arrives then it waits till the first one leaves as there is only one platform. As we waited Debs texted that the south bound train was at the station now. When it left we proceeded to the station and meet my sister.


My sis, Dr. Debs.

We has a nice but short visit and it had been ages since Russell and Debs have seen each other. Leaving SLO we quickly approached the Cuesta curve.


Men's penal colony at San Luis Opispo in background from the Cuesta curve.












On the Cuesta a little after 5pm.

    After the Cuesta, we went by Templeton and then a stop in Paso Robles with the next stop after being in about two hours in Salinas.

    We had just boarded after a smoke stop in Salinas and were relaxing in our room discussing what to order for dinner. Earlier in the afternoon when the dining host was taking diner reservations, Russell decided he could do the stairs to the upper level and the dinning car so we made a reservation for the 7 pm seating. It was about ten minutes until we would be called for dinner when a loud sound came from the floor of our room followed next by another. We looked at each other and said "What the???" The room floor is only a foot or so above the roadbed. Soon the train began to slow down, the smell of burnt brake shoe was overpowering and then everyone was looking out of their room to find out what was going on. Everyone looked okay and the car was still upright and no damage found. I told Russell we should think about what we would need if we should have to evacuate quickly as we didn't know the condition on the other cars on the train.   

    Then it was announced that an incident occurred and the conductor was outside walking the consist to check for damage. Then the dining car announced the call for our 7 pm seating. Although having lost our appetite, we decided go ahead with dinner. Russell was successful in tackling the stairs and soon we were seated at a table and were joined by another couple, all us were a bit shook up and a stiff drink was the order of the day. Everyone in the diner was talking about the incident, with stories, rumors and such. Some were listing to the crew talk on the radio and something about hitting a tanker truck was the chatter. The wait staff wanted everyone to order now because there was chance the power would be cut of, they would not be able to cook any food and we might have to eat in the dark even if the food was cooked. Well the power stayed on and we ate our dinner. Then the conductor came into diner and made the announcement that we did hit a tanker truck that went around the crossing arm and was hit. He said this was the tragic outcome of trying to beat the train at a crossing. The coroner was being called so we would be here for awhile. This would cause a minimum three hour wait. Later we learned that it was a tanker truck that services porta- potties, many located here in middle of the Salinas lettuce fields. Needless to say there were many jokes made about "honey buckets.

    After we all finished eating, we then hung around talking when the first responders arrived to check on the medical condition of passengers. Several ladies' hearts went a-flutter when they walked through the car. One smelled like a walking campfire. The older lady in the accessible bedroom complained of several aches and pains. She was told they could take her to the hospital in Monterey. but declined and would wait till she arrived in Sacramento. I guess she didn't want to be stuck in Monterey. We returned to our room to relax as we had a bed and food available, so we could stay here for awhile with no problems. Later Moses, the cafe attendant, made an announcement about many questions he had been asked. Among them was could they get off the train. NO. There was no platform and we were located in the middle of lettuce fields with no nearby services. Looking out the window, you saw darkness with a very few lights in the distance.

Approximate location of wreck. Click for Map

    As the evening wore on, we decided to call it a day and had the beds made up. We hadn't moved and Roger had no new info, so we went to sleep not knowing where we would be located upon waking in the morning.

Thanks for reading.

The next day, where it take us is unknown.

Continue to tomorrow-Thursday>>

Return to Table of Contents

Return to Home Page

Text and Photos by Author

The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent.

Comments appreciated at ....